Close-Up: Should agencies bin Cannes this year?

As the recession tightens, advertisers question the festival's extravagance.

In a sign of the economic times, DDB Worldwide has scrapped its legendary party at this year's Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, as it felt it would be "wrong" to blow money as the recession kicks in.

Instead, Bob Scarpelli, the chairman and chief creative officer of DDB Worldwide, has organised for David Plouffe, Barack Obama's campaign manager, to speak at the festival. Cannes, in 2009, is shaping up to be a very different beast to previous years.

And it's not only the nightlife that is downsizing. A number of agencies are ditching the villas for apartments and hotel rooms, while CHI & Partners is still undecided on whether to get a yacht.

Even the networks are putting financial pressure on agencies to scale down. Young & Rubicam Brands is restricting delegates to creative directors only.

Meanwhile, most in adland are still undecided on whether they will be going at all.

Despite the festival organisers' attempts to ease the financial strain by arranging more "economical" delegation and accommodation packages, and striking deals with airlines for lower ticket prices, raising its delegate registration and entry fees from EUR2,386.02 in 2008 to EUR2,601.30 is considered a bit of a slap in the face.

But, Philip Thomas, the chief executive of Cannes Lions, argues that it is trying to do as much as it can to make it as affordable as possible - which is not an easy task.

What Cannes does offer is a truly international awards ceremony. And Scarpelli says a shift to the "business of creativity" is vital to motivate the industry forward in a recession.

"We are certainly conscious of the fact that lots of people have lost their jobs," Scarpelli says.

"But I still believe that the inspiration and the vision which comes out of Cannes is invaluable."

While others, like Damon Collins, the executive creative director of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, says the shift will demonstrate to clients that agencies are being more responsible. And, with redundancies still a major issue, many believe throwing cash at Cannes sends the wrong message.

Cannes can be hugely informative, offering inspiration and recognition, more important than ever in a recession. But it's hard to get away from the fact that spending hard-earned cash on what can seem like a senior-management jolly is not the right message to be sending out to staff and clients alike.

Indeed, Johnny Hornby, CHI's founding partner, argues that it's important to set an example for your staff that the agency is not going off on a jolly, especially if those staff have made financial sacrifices, such as not getting bonuses or pay rises.

And it is possible to do Cannes on a smaller budget. Last year, McCann Erickson had a yacht where creatives slept on the deck.

And it's not uncommon for younger creatives to pile into one hotel room. But the reality is that most people who go to Cannes do not want to rough it.

Peter Walker, CHI & Partners' financial director, says: "You can't take the element of fun and sparkle out of the industry, it would kill it. But you need to strike a balance."

And if you're still looking for a good excuse to go, plenty senior clients will be there, on the basis that they might learn something that will give them a competitive edge.So who knows, Cannes 2009 might prove to be fertile new-business territory, and what agency can afford to pass that up at the moment?

CHAIRMAN - Bob Scarpelli, chairman and chief creative officer, DDB Worldwide

"It was wrong to spend the money on a party. People have lost their jobs and it felt like the wrong signal to send out.

"Cannes should be, and has been, about the celebration of the work and ideas. It should be focused on the business of creativity, the most powerful force in business, particularly in these times.

"I hope there is more of a focus back on the reason why we're there: to be inspired by the work and ideas and see where the industry is going. But I think there will be fewer people."

CHIEF EXECUTIVE - Philip Thomas, chief executive, Cannes Lions

"You've got to think about what Cannes offers. You go to Cannes to see the work of 100 countries and leave the festival inspired to do the very best work you can. Very few places can offer that special experience.

"At Cannes this year, there will be an opportunity to listen to easily the most powerful line-up of world-class speakers on the subject of creativity and communication.

"The seminar programme sets a tone for the festival. Of all years, this is the year when people will want to learn from each other and have conversations about how the industry can move forward."

CREATIVE DIRECTOR - Damon Collins, executive creative director, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R

"I think it is right for Cannes, and the agencies, to be demonstrating to clients that we are spending their money wisely. If that means cutting back on the parties, or holding more lectures and educational seminars, then that can only be a good thing.

"But it is hard to justify spending the amount of money agencies have done in the past on an awards do or entertainment this year. There will have to be a more responsible attitude.

"There have to be sound reasons to go, like picking up an award or going to important meetings."

AGENCY CHIEF - Johnny Hornby, founding partner, CHI & Partners

"There won't be a big showing from us as it seems a little bit wrong. I love Cannes, but people are walking the streets without jobs, so it would send the wrong signal. Unless I was going for seminars, doing something with clients or we'd won an award, I'd think hard about going.

"When the business is as tough as it is at the moment, you have to be careful about the example you set for your employees. If your business in London is cutting costs, I don't think you can be seen to be having a big jolly.

"I've heard you can go to Cannes without a yacht, but I have never tried it."